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In Philly, the beer scene heads into a new age | Let’s Eat

Also: Los Sarapes has gained a bar as it moved, and Jason's Toridasu is now a chicken shop.

Smoked beef chili at Troubles End.
Smoked beef chili at Troubles End.Read moreMICHAEL KLEIN / Staff

You’re opening a brewery? Who isn’t, these days. The region is dotted with them, and there’s more to come. I take a snapshot of the beer scene, vis a vis the opening of a brewpub in Collegeville. Also this week, I have word of a popular Mexican restaurant in Montco that just moved, as well as a tip for fanciers of fried chicken on City Avenue. Read on, as Inquirer food critic Craig LaBan discusses the rise of vegan cooking at otherwise-omnivore restaurants.

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Michael Klein

Philly-area breweries are hopping

If it seems as if a new brewery opens every day, but that’s far from accurate. The Brewers Association, which focuses on independent craft breweries, counted 7,450 in the United States in 2018 (the last year available), compared with 3,860 in 2014.

That’s nearly new breweries a day.

The Philly area is hopping. Thursday, March 5 marks the debut of the roomy Troubles End in Collegeville, where brewer Zachary Svoboda will have 28 taps to play with as well as his own cocktail program, and chef Kris Serviss (ex-Blue Duck) is behind a rich menu that includes Nashville chicken egg rolls, French onion mac and cheese, chicken fried pickles, and waffle fry nachos.

Also well worth checking is King’s Road Brewing Co., which outgrew its snug Haddonfield storefront on its very first day in late 2017 and moved across the alley about three months ago into a space double the size. Those who had felt intimidated by the lack of seating can now spread out at long tables or take one of 14 bar seats. King’s Road, like all New Jersey tasting rooms, is a bring-your-own-food situation; you can get packaged snacks, but the neighboring restaurants on Kings Highway offer great takeout selections.

This year, Philly will see the openings of at least two major breweries with restaurants: Victory Brewing Co. plans to set up in 14,000 square feet space at 18th Street and the Parkway — replacing the TGI Friday’s, which will close at the end of March — and Night Shift, out of Boston, is working on a 130,000-square-foot, $10 million production facility, taproom, and distributorship at 401 Domino Lane in Roxborough. No target dates except for “late 2020.”

Meanwhile, the local openings keep pouring it on. In just the last couple of months, newcomers with food menus include Local Tap in Lansdale, Be Here in Avondale, Twisted Gingers in Roxborough, and Punch Buggy in Kensington, while it’s a BYO food/visiting truck situation at such rookies as Artifact Brewing in Hatboro, Newtown Brewing in Newtown, Tilt’em Back in Chalfont, Second Sin and Odd Logic in Bristol, as well as South Jersey’s Red White and Brew in Audubon and Armageddon (which brews cider and mead) in Somerdale.

On the way besides Victory and Night Shift, we’re looking out for Dr. Brewlittle’s in Maple Shade (any day now), Farm Truck in Medford, Mechanical in Cherry Hill, New Ridge in Roxborough and Hares Hill Tap Room (as part of Stone House Grille in Kimberton), as well as Lucky Cat in Northeast Philly and Warwick Farm in Jamison. Even further down the road are Iron Hill Brewery locations in Exton and Newtown, and Cartesian in South Philly.

This Week’s Openings

Gaul & Co. Malt House | Rockledge

The popular Port Richmond pub has taken over Breen’s at 704 Huntingdon Pike for its second location.

La Tavola | South Philadelphia

Cool Italian deli at 1138 Ritner St.

Los Sarapes | Horsham

See below.

PaperMill Asian Kitchen | University City

The mobile home of the Spurrito now has a brick-and-mortar location in Franklin’s Table food hall, 3401 Walnut St.

Spread Bagelry | South Street

The Montreal-style bagel shop opens at 7 a.m. March 5 at Fifth and South Streets.

Troubles End Brewing Co. | Collegeville

See above.

The Wing Kitchen | Glassboro

Chef Tim Witcher, who won on Food Network’s Chopped, is following up his Turnersville location with a branch at Rowan University (114 High Street West) on Friday, March 6.

This Week’s Closings

Bernie’s | University City

Pub at 3432 Sansom St. buttoned up after less than three years.

Honey’s Sit N Eat | South Street West temporary

A kitchen fire at the 2101 South St. location has forced a temporary closing.

SK Pastrami & Things | Rittenhouse

As building undergoes renovation, the deli owner has decided to close at 18th and Market.

SOMO SoPhi | South Philadelphia

Short-lived restaurant at 13th Street and Packer Avenue will give way to a sports bar called Venu.

Where we’re enjoying happy hour

Paris Bistro, 8235 Germantown Ave., 4-6 p.m. Monday to Friday at the bar

There’s a lived-in, Parisian quality to the bar and dining room at this Chestnut Hill French restaurant, whose happy hours give you a fair taste of chef/partner Robert Mullen’s menu.

Go simple, with deviled eggs sourced from Erdenheim Farm down the street ($5), or kick it up with a truffled mushroom tart ($9), a feta tartine ($7), or the burger ($13, topped with Gruyere, lettuce, tomato, and pickled onions). Supplement with buck-a-shuck oysters.

Drink specials are $9: martinis on Monday, bourbon Tuesday, wines on Wednesday, throwback drinks such as a bee’s knees and rosemary old-fashioned on Thursday, and various cocktails on Friday.

Where we’re eating

Los Sarapes, 1101 Horsham Rd., Ambler

Why did the Mexican restaurant cross the road? Luis Marin saw opportunity on the other side when the Prospectville Inn closed. Marin gutted it and last week moved in his Horsham Township location of Los Sarapes.

What’s new: a 25-seat bar, a liquor license (24-draft beer system, plus a great selection of tequilas), a deck out front, and a party room in the back — overall, triple the space.

Check the rolling guac cart, where waiters smash avocados into lava bowls on demand. Menu is similar to that served at the Los Sarapes in Chalfont and El Sarape in Blue Bell. Best bets include the tacos (especially the tacos de mariscos, which are filled with octopus, shrimp, chorizo, avocado, cilantro, and red cabbage, $14.50) and pollo mestizo (an $18.50 entree of grilled chicken with a mild, creamy poblano pepper sauce and melted Chihuahua cheese and two sides).

Note: It is in Horsham Township, but GPS maps prefer “Ambler.”

Hours: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. for lunch, 5-9 p.m. for dinner daily.

Jason’s Toridasu, 3800 City Ave., next to Panera Bread

Jason Kim has gone to the birds, for now.

As his popular Ardmore sushi spot Jason’s Toridasu is closed for now (a sushi chef shortage, he says), Kim has revamped the City Avenue spin-off into a fried chicken-focused bowl, sandwich, and wrap shop. (You can get veggie, shrimp, and fish, too.)

This chicken is juicy. It’s crusted, not too thickly, in panko and cornflakes, and hit with just the right zing. The sandwich, served in paper bowls from his Manayunk At Ramen shop, is a respectable $6.95, while it’s available as a chicken rice bowl ($9.95) and in a decadent serving of chicken and waffles ($9.95). This is casual counter service, spacious enough for eat-in, though takeout is popular.

Your biggest challenge may be finding the place. It’s next to the Panera at the front of Presidential City apartments; if you enter the property off of City Avenue, make the very first left in front of the building.

Hours: 11:30 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, 1-8:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Dining Notes

What does it take to get into Dirty Franks’ Customer Hall of Fame? Food Writer Jenn Ladd went to the awards for one of Philadelphia’s longest-lived and most legendary dives.

Inspired by the talented young people coming to Masterchef Junior Live, we asked Philly chefs, including Apolinar ‘Poli’ Sanchez, Yehuda Sichel, and Judy Ni, what they liked to cook when they were kids.

Diners are lining up for cheesesteaks – in Bahrain. Chef Brian Becher, a Delco native, starting cooking “the indigenous food of my people” in the Arabian gulf nation.

Craig LaBan answers your dining questions

Reader: I saw you enjoyed the celery root “steak” Townsend cooked for your vegan dinner guest. What other restaurants that aren’t necessarily vegan are doing interesting things to accommodate plant-based eaters?

Craig LaBan: I thought it was a good test for Townsend (2121 Walnut St.), to see if a restaurant known for meaty French dishes like roast duck and sweetbreads could cook something off-menu beyond its standard playbook that was plant-based. And, with a couple days’ notice, Townsend certainly delivered with that veggie “steak” – a toothsome plank of celery root infused with flavor sous-vide, sauced with a mushroom jus that had as much depth as any veal demiglace.

For my dedicated vegan guest, the meal at Townsend seemed to represent a milestone in the fight for plant-based eaters to be embraced by the restaurant industry at large. We’ve long celebrated the achievements of Philly’s nationally renowned vegan culinary community. But the success of those pioneers has had a powerful ripple effect judging by the energy now being devoted to plant-based cooking in mainstream restaurants catering to an omnivorous crowd. If you’re a top restaurant of any sort in Philly in 2020, serious vegetable chops are the expectation – not the exception.

My recent dining guide tipped a carrot to several vegetarian favorites – the broccoli tabbouleh at Spice Finch (220 S. 17th St.); the grand mezze at Irwin’s (in the Bok at 800 Mifflin St.); the cauliflower tacos with almond-morita salsa at Nemi (2636 Ann St.). But this week, I also reached out to several chefs from my current Top 25 restaurants, among others, to hear what they’re most excited about cooking right now for a plant-based meal.

No tired veggie pasta clichés allowed, I said. But the cue wasn’t necessary. Between the flavor-building trends of live fire cooking, fermentation, and careful sourcing of seasonal vegetables, these chefs are genuinely thrilled by the challenge of drawing culinary satisfaction from produce and plant-based fats. Stay tuned for a more in-depth take on vegan dishes in a coming feature, with some tempting photos and several more restaurants.

Here are five that I’m already excited about:

Sweet potato “chorizo” at Cadence (161 W. Girard Ave.): This seasonal BYOB is always bursting with vegan options. But the trio of chefs here have done things to sweet potatoes that I couldn’t have expected, smoking them whole in the live-fire hearth, then crusting meaty slices of those “steaks” with a sweet potato “chorizo.” Made from scraps that are dehydrated and ground with chile oil and seasonings for an ‘Nduja-like paste, it adds spice, tang and texture for an incredibly dynamic dish.

Thai eggplant at Kalaya (764 S. 9th St.): Much of the Thai cuisine at Kalaya relies on fish sauce and fermented seafood paste for underlying depth. But chef Chutatip “Nok” Suntaranon cooks some fabulous vegan-friendly dishes, too, including her famous blue tapioca dumplings (sakoo sai hed) stuffed with mushrooms and peanuts. Try her stir-fried Japanese eggplant marinated in miso, bean paste, basil and chilies, which takes on additional savor when singed in Kalaya’s smoking hot wok.

Kimchi-powered gratin at Vernick Food & Drink (2031 Walnut St.): Chef Greg Vernick, who’s gone plant-based himself two days a week, can easily veggie-flex with the slow-roasted cabbage topped with mole at Vernick Fish or the best-selling mushroom-avocado grain bowl at Vernick Coffee Bar. His new vegan crush at the flagship on Walnut Street is a sweet potato-kimchi gratin with pear butter and a soy glaze.

Cauliflower crudo at Andiario (106 W. Gay St., West Chester): Cauliflower is the sturdy brassica of choice when it comes to grilling for a faux-steak. But Anthony Andiario taps the raw appeal of his heirloom varieties by serving a colorful mosaic of cauliflower carpaccio drizzled with vegan bagna cauda.

Bolero carrot tartare at Serpico (604 South St.): End-of-season carrots from Root Mass Farms get the tartare treatment, but true to chef Peter Serpico’s lapidary ways, this is no simple mince. The carrots are steamed, partially dehydrated, cut to uniform bits, then partially rehydrated in a vacu-sealed bag to achieve ideal texture. It’s all tossed with a gingery soy vinaigrette, then topped with rice-encrusted seaweed crackers showered with sliced myoga ginger.